Women from the Motacusito community promote the declaration of a protected area in the Bolivian Pantanal
Thanks to the women's initiative, 880 hectares of the Motacusito community will be destined for the conservation and protection of water sources and the development of community ecotourism as the main economic activity of families in the region.
Quidian Román Samaricha, Ana María Tomichá, Marisol Román and Dayana Espinoza travel on foot every day to the mountain range where they grew up: Motacusito. Among caves and waterholes, they have been working as guides for three years under the Association of Tourist Service Providers.Motacusito Nuevo was created by them and accredited by the Tourism Federation at the national level.
On July 10, they achieved the declaration of a Law to protect the ecosystem of their territory for the first time in its history. The first Municipal Protected Area Law 252/23 in the Germán Busch province establishes that, of the 1,508 hectares that Motacusito has, 880 hectares are destined for the conservation and protection of ecological functions of water sources, recharge of aquifers and surface waters, and the development of community ecotourism, the main economic activity of families.
Their achievement represents an unprecedented triumph for the conservation of this place and for a community led by women whose main activity is ecotourism. Being a municipal protected area, the community of Motacusito now has more legal tools and guarantees so that its territory’s management is shared and sustainable tourism, the main economic activity of families, is carried out protecting the most protected area. This is important in the region in terms of water recharge.
The peasant community of Motacusito – or Motacú as its almost 200 inhabitants affectionately call it— is located eight kilometres southwest of the municipality of Puerto Suárez, in the heart of the Bolivian Pantanal, which is considered the largest freshwater Ramsar site in Bolivia. It is a destination where more and more tourists and researchers from the country’s interior and Brazil arrive due to its water. Its springs and cave are declared an Important Site for the Conservation of Bats (SICOMs), which functions as a refuge for several species of bats, such as Natalus macrourus, Carollia perspicillata and Desmodus rotundus). Tourist activities benefit women the local guides, and are also a source of income for the entire community and the municipality as they boost the local economy with lodging, food and transportation services, among others.
A CONTRIBUTION TO THE CONSERVATION OF THE PANTANAL
In Motacusito, water is a strategic resource for its development and local economy. It was precisely water that united brave women from Motacusito, Quidian, Ana María, Marisol and Dayana with the Autonomous Municipal Government of Puerto Suárez, the Bolivian Society of Environmental Law (SBDA) and WWF, who, based on the establishment and management of the Puerto Suárez Monitoring Center, together carried out technical studies on the state of water resources of the municipality, to propose public policies that support conservation actions, supported by scientific and technical information, under the leadership of the women of the community. “A teamwork in which attention was paid to us,” adds Quidian, elected vice president of the community in 2022.
The Bolivian Pantanal is part of what is known as the Great Pantanal, the largest continuous freshwater wetland in the world, which shares its majesty with Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. By occupying 67% of the territory of the municipality of Puerto Suárez, the threats from forest fires, droughts and climate change in the Bolivian Pantanal also affect the rest of the ecoregion. There, Motacusito is a key place for water recharge because there are the water springs that feed the Cáceres Lagoon, which supplies water and bathes the Pantanal and connects with the Paraguay River, which is full of life.
The diagnosis carried out in the area in 2016 began a process of “articulation of years,” explains Víctor Magallanes, coordinator of the Pantanal Chaco landscape (PACHA) of WWF Bolivia. Today, the stage concludes with the first municipal protected area for the conservation of water resources, managed by its leaders. “We are talking about a protected area where local culture is everything, where there are natural leaders of the processes,” he says. “Success belongs to the community, and we can proudly say that we have been able to be part of that, facilitating spaces and providing technical and legal help.”
“We were simple advisors; the women took charge of everything, and they stood firm,” says Mauricio Méndez, SBDA project coordinator. “We were interested in understanding the reason for the 60% decrease in water that Laguna Cáceres had between 2019 and 2020. When we arrived in Motacusito, there were many water holes, and the studies we carried out showed that one of its basins was the first that contributed to the lagoon. It works like a water tank and is born there in its community. They didn’t know that, but they gave it the courage to know it, which made the difference.”
The Motacusito Nuevo Tourist Service Providers Association, comprised of seven women from Motacusito, was born due to various trainings on leadership, organisation, community tourism, and sustainable resource management. “As women who work for the good of the family, we fight for it from the beginning. We knock on many doors and look for each other, even in the most difficult moments,” says Quidian. “We insisted on a bill that would transform Motacusito into a protected area, to take care of our resources and make them useful for future generations.”
The Motacusito caves have an area of 120 m, with a garden of cacti and bromeliads on the outside and interesting wildlife inside, such as toads and frogs, blind fish, and whip spiders. With rock formations of stalactites and stalagmites, its cave works like a sponge for storing groundwater. “It is entering another world in which men stay at the door, women go down until the water reaches their waists and bats flutter,” says one of its visitors.
In recent years, Quidian, Ana María, Marisol, and Dayana alternated going down to the cave, dressed in pantanera boots and fisherman hats, with long days sharing coffee and meeting to define the articles that would be in the bill. “Some told us we should stay at home, cooking and washing, but we didn’t listen to them, and we got ahead. Others, like the general secretary of Motacusito, Roberto Viera, “trusted us a lot.”
On July 10, the first Municipal Protected Area Law was declared in front of the entire community. As Victor explains, “one of those moments where you feel we are doing well and we are not alone.” In Roberto’s words, “a historic day because when they want to support the community, everything is achieved.” It was “a celebration for all the struggle” for Quidian, Ana María, Marisol and Dayana.
“We know that what we did is still not 100% because it is something long-term,” says Quidian. “We want to work more and more for Motacusito, with communal gardens, bird watching and crafts with the leaves of the Motacú palm tree. We have already visited other women from other communities, such as San Juan del Mutún and San Salvador, to tell them what we have done and what we want to do…this is just beginning.”